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Blogs I Follow

The Presidents Club

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The Surest Defense Against Evil

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The Triumph of Grace

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Contemplating God’s Sovereignty

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How Should We Then Live?

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Not a Timid Christianity

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Finishing the Race

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Because the Time is Near

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Revelation Song (YouTube)

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Where The Wind Blows

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Doing Great Things

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Recognizing a False Prophet

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The Power of Forgiveness

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Created for Relationships

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The Only Way I Know

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Faith: The Misunderstood Doctrine

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Our True Home Address

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‘Tis the Season . . . for L-O-V-E

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The Paris Terrorist Attack and the Problem of Evil

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Cherry Picking 101

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Love Sweet Love

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So Goes The Culture

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Idols of the Heart

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Divisions Are Not Always Bad

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

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Flying On Instinct

instinctsSo much of how we view our world today is often determined by our emotions or feelings which can change at the drop of a hat.” Instinct, on the other hand, does not run on emotions or feelings. Dictionary.com defines instinct as follows:

  • an inborn pattern of activity or tendency to action common to a given biological species;
  • a natural or innate impulse, inclination, or tendency;
  • a natural aptitude or gift (e.g., an instinct for making money)
  • natural intuitive power

Instinct doesn’t run on logic or reason (nor does it operate on emotions or feelings). It’s innate. And instinct is not the same as intuition. It differs from intuition as described below (quote source here):

Although the words “intuition” and “instinct” appear identical to most people, these two do not refer to the same thing as there is a difference between them in their meanings. Intuition is our ability to know something without reasoning. It is when we feel as if we know what is about to happen or what to do without having any real facts. But, instinct is something different from intuition. It is an inborn tendency. Instinct is our natural reaction; it occurs without even thinking. It is more an ability, unlike intuition. This is the main difference between intuition and instinct. Through this article, let us examine the difference between intuition and instinct.

Intuition is “the ability to understand or know something without conscious reasoning.” It is similar to an insight that we have regarding a matter. For instance, have you felt as if something is not right, or that something bad is about to happen without having any concrete facts? This is due to our intuition. We do not have real facts or a rationale for our feeling, but we feel as if it is correct.

When intuition comes to play, we do not analyze the situation. We also do not weigh the pros and cons, we just know. For instance, before arriving at a decision, people approach it from different angles. They try to work out the best manner of doing something, verify the advantages and disadvantages. However, with intuition, one does not have sufficient information to rationalize his decision or thought. It is as if the individual can see beyond what is presented.

Instinct refers to “an inborn tendency.” It is a natural ability. Instinct is not something that we have learned, but it is a natural response. For instance, imagine you see a vehicle coming at high speed towards you. You would naturally jump out of the way. In such a situation, you hardly get sufficient time to think, but you respond automatically. This is because of our instinct.

Unlike intuition that is a thought, instinct is mostly a behavior or else an action. For instance, if a ball comes in your direction, you instinctively attempt to either catch it or else move away so that it will not hit you. You do not have time to think whether you should move away or catch the ball. Within seconds, you act on it. In psychology, we speak of two concepts of “flight or fight mode.” Flight is when the individual moves away from the situation; fight is when the individual faces the situation, or else in this case catches the ball. This occurs in a very short period.

As you can see, intuition is different from instinct. It is a thought and not an automatic response or action. (Quote source here at DifferenceBetween.com.)

Instinct takes place in the immediate “now.” As humans, we like to rationalize everything, but instincts can’t be rationalized. It is a natural reaction, an automatic response, and an inborn tendency.

With that in mind, the other day I ran across the book, Instinct: The Power to Release Your Inborn Drive” (2014), by Bishop T.D. Jakes,a charismatic leader, visionary, provocative thinker, and entrepreneur who serves as senior pastor of The Potter’s House, a global humanitarian organization and 30,000-member church located in Dallas, Texas” (quote source here). He is also a New York Times bestselling author of many books. An introduction to the book on Amazon.com states the following (quote source here):

Whether you call it following your heart, a gut feeling, a hunch or intuition, instinct–the inner knowledge bubbling up from a wellspring of wisdom within–can lead to a bigger, elephant-sized life.

Combining social, business and personal examples with biblical insights, in “Instinct” Bishop Jakes shows readers how to rediscover their natural aptitudes and reclaim the wisdom of their past experiences. Knowing when to close a deal, when to take a risk, and when to listen to their hearts will become possible when they’re in touch with the instincts that God gave them.

If readers are ready to unlock the confines of where they are, and discover where they were meant to be, then “Instinct” is their key! (Quote source here.)

In the opening paragraphs in Chapter 1 titled, “Instinct Has a Rhythm,” Bishop Jakes states:

Our instincts are the treasure map for our soul’s satisfaction. Following our instincts can make the crucial distinction between what we are good at–our vocation or skill set–and what we are good for–the fulfillment of our purposeful potential. When you’re truly engaged with your life’s calling, whether in the boutique, the banquet hall, or the boardroom, you rely on something that cannot be taught.

I’ve convinced that our instincts can provide the combination we need to align our unique variables with our callings and release the treasure within us. When harnessed, refined, and heeded, our instincts can provide the key to unlocking our most productive, most satisfying, most joyful lives. . . .

Unfortunately, much of what I see today isn’t about fulfilling one’s true potential as much as it is about appearing to fulfill what other people expect. Too many people want the appearance of winning rather than the practices and hard work that create a true champion. They mistake the prize for the art of winning and will ultimately buy a trophy without ever running a race. They didn’t take the class; they bought the diploma. They aren’t successful; they just have the props. They aren’t driven to achieve something; they just bust their gut to appear busy to everyone around them.

The irony is what these people fail to realize. When you’re living by instinct, then you will naturally enhance everything and everyone around you. In other words, success will come naturally! When both your intellect and instincts are aligned, then producing the fruits of your labors brings satisfaction beyond measure.

Now, it will still require hard work and dedication on your part, but the internal satisfaction will fuel your desire to achieve even larger dreams. Based on the fact that we are all inherently creative people, if we are in touch with our instincts, then we will naturally increase our endeavors. When you don’t become fixated on winning the prize or appearing successful, and instead pursue your passions, then you will discover the fulfillment that comes from living by instinct. (Quote source: Chapter 1, pp. 1-3).

In Chapter 2 titled, “Basic Instincts,” Bishop Jakes writes:

On a basic level, we share many of the same instincts. We see instinct in action when a baby tries to suckle in order to receive nourishment, or a toddler recoils from a hot skillet. It’s the sense you have about the stranger lingering behind you on your walk home that causes you to run into a store and call a taxi. Similarly, no one has to teach you to dodge the oncoming bus careening toward you while you’re crossing the street.

We are wired to stay alive. Our bodies naturally seek out nourishment (food and water) and protection (such as shelter, clothing, and weapons) to survive. You’ve probably heard of the “fight or flight” response, which is an instinctive reaction to any perceived danger. Many scientists also believe that language is instinctive, or at least the desire to express our responses to both internal and external stimuli. Some researchers believe that we are instinctively spiritual beings as well, which, of course, I would confirm. . . .

On the other hand, our instincts are not necessarily accurate all the time. The hunch about someone else’s business deal wasn’t true. Your sense of timing for the big date wasn’t on target after all. The sense of dread about a client’s reaction to your work proved to have no basis in reality. . . .

So how do you become more aware of your unique, naturally developed instincts? And perhaps more important, how do you discern when to trust your instincts and when to rely on logic, fact, and objectivity?

Obviously, this is where our relationship with instinct gets tricky.

And that’s what this book is all about. (Quote source: Chapter 2, pp. 12-14).

Of course, you’ll have to get the book to find out more, but at this point I want go to Chapter 9, “Instincts Under Pressure,” where Bishop Jakes explains how instincts played a crucial role in his move from West Virginia to Texas on pp. 95-101:

give-it-a-try-whispered-the-heartWe’re used to basing our decisions on past experiences and then suddenly our instincts pull us toward something equally tantalizing and terrifying. We cannot deny our instinctive attraction, and yet we’re unsettled by its unfamiliarity. Nothing in our repertoire of achievements and abilities, nor our family, our training, our education, or our experiences has prepared us, and yet we are drawn instinctively toward something that excites us, touches us, energizes us, and leave us shaking in our boots.

From my experiences and those of many others, instinct likes a challenge more than it likes comfort. Our instincts would rather lead us to face the unknown than let us shrink into the corner of our cage. When we’re committed to fulfilling our destiny, our instinct drives us away from complacency and toward contentment.

An inmate leaving prison must certainly feel this odd mixture of excitement and fear as he walks through the door of his cell one last time, through the gates of the prison grounds. What had become familiar to him, normal and routine, must now be left behind. He must start over. And as exhilarated as he may be by the restoration of his freedom, he also must make his way into a new jungle that has grown unrecognizable from when he knew it before. In fact, many parolees and former inmates become so stressed trying to reacclimate to the outside that they often end up returning to crime.

Did they commit a crime in hopes of returning to the confinement of a prison cell? Probably not consciously, but one wonders when looking at the recidivism rate. The literal, physical incarceration may even seem preferable to the fear of learning to live outside the prison walls.

Even if we have never faced physical confinement, most of us can relate. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a new career, a new marriage, a new season of being single, a new business launch. When we start anything by following our instincts, we will likely be forced to leave our cage of comfort and complacency.

I faced this very dilemma when I made the decision to move my family and ministry from Charleston, West Virginia, where I’d grown up and lived all my life, to Dallas, Texas, which I probably knew better from television and movies than from my own experience. I’m still not exactly sure how it came about. I became interested in the Dallas area because I had heard that many people there attended church regularly (not always the case in urban areas) and were open to joining a new Christian community. I had also heard that property was relatively affordable for such a large urban area.

Ironically enough, I had actually told a friend of mine, another pastor, that he ought to move to Dallas and start a church there. But after some thoughtful and prayerful consideration, he ended up going another direction. And yet the thought of this place I had recommended to him haunted me. I began to wonder what Dallas was really like. While I had been through there a time or two, I knew very little about the people, the culture, the flavor and lifestyle of Texans. And yet I couldn’t quit thinking about moving to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. It remained an alluring attraction, one I finally could not ignore.

When I went to Dallas and visited the prospective property for our new church, I asked the owner if I could have a few minutes alone in the building and he agreed. There in the echoing cavern of a structure so much larger than our entire church back in West Virginia, I asked God if this was where he wanted me. It didn’t take long before my awareness of his presence increased, and everything in me heard, “Yes.”

Even with this sense of God’s calling and blessing upon the move. I remained fearful. I have lived in West Virginia my entire life! I would not only be leaving my church to plant a new one, but I would be leaving one lifestyle and culture for another. The Dallas-Fort Worth metropolitan area included over two million people at that time–about twenty times more than Charleston! And how would Texans take to an African-American outsider moving into their territory? If everything is bigger in Texas, would that include prejudice and hostility?

With growing trepidation, I agonized over this decision. I paced the cage that contained me and wondered if I dared set foot into the Texan jungle opening before me. If I stayed put, would I regret not exploring this opportunity, forever wondering, “What if . . .?” Or would I long for the comfortable security of my humble roots and regret my risk when inevitably confronted with adversity?

Moving away would include uprooting my wife and kids, and taking my mother with us after she had lived over six decades in the same area. We would be leaving the small-town warmth of our cocooned community and launching out on new wings. But would we fly? Or flutter momentarily before crashing to the ground?

It was a huge risk, but I had to take it. I had to leave my cage, but I had to take it. I had to leave my cage. Not only did I feel God’s prompting me to make the move, but something deep inside me knew it was where I belonged–even if I didn’t exactly know why. Needless to say, I have never regretted my decision to follow my instincts and move to Dallas. No, instead I discovered that my move was not just an open door to me but was, in fact, the intersection of the destiny of thousands if not millions of others whose lives would forever be changed, all predicated upon me releasing my fear and mustering the courage to be stretched beyond my comfort zone.

When we find ourselves at the crossroads between at least two different directions, we often panic. It feels like a no-win. After our instincts have been stirred by a vision, a glimpse, a divine whisper inside us, we cannot ignore the decision. Or, if we do, then that in itself becomes a decision we know we will soon regret. When our instincts magnetically urge us in a particular direction, my experience has been that we will regret not acting on that urge. Standing at the crossroads may feel like being caught in the crosshairs!

But I’m convinced that it is so much more productive, satisfying, and invigorating to have risked a new endeavor and failed than to play it safe and remain in the status quo. When a mother eagle senses instinctively that her eaglets are now ready to fly, she disrupts the nest with her beak, pushing them out with an eviction notice that seems so cruel. Her beak dislodges them from their nest and pushes them to the edge. Have you ever been pushed to the edge?

I saw eagles in the plain I visited soaring in the wind. It was amazing to me to realize that what seems so natural now was once a moment of great terror. When it was young that eagle was pushed to the edge. Its mother’s beak had no doubt dropped him off the edge of the cliff!

The results produce a striking beauty, but in the moment of crossing from nest to nature, the sight would make you call the animal rights commission and file a complaint of abuse! The mother obviously is not being cruel to her little birds. Instead she is pushing them into the uncomfortable place of discovery. She knows that the nest was only the crossroads through which they would grow and develop. If they sat in the temporary, it would be at the expense of the permanent.

Now, I’m told that the little birds become frightened half to death and initially start flipping their wings out of terror, flailing wildly to ward off what looks like inevitable death. But the flailing of their fear is the birthing of a discovery. Their instinct to fly is released with great peril and fear.

In the galing winds and impending danger, they find that the wings they never utilized in their previous comfortable nest find use in the fall and give birth to their flight. To ensure that they will not come back to the nest, she stirs the nest with her beak so that the prickly briars protrude and make it impossible for them to find comfort where they once rested.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been forced to find my wings by the discomfort of staying where I was. I’ve felt like an eaglet more than once, forced out many times by circumstances I couldn’t control. I’ve screamed inwardly a thousand reasons why the time was not right or I wasn’t prepared. If you are like me, you tell yourself, “But I don’t have the experience or the training or the education or the relationship or the resources necessary to take such a dangerous leap!”

All of which may be true. But there are times when we must disregard the data and distance our doubts if we are ever going to achieve greater velocity towards the goals that roar within us. We must follow the instinct to fly. (Quote Source: Chapter 9, pp. 95-101.)

take-the-first-stepThis may be one of the longest posts I’ve pieced together, but I hope it provides you with encouragement in your own circumstances no matter what they might be. Stagnating or vacillating in life is never a good option, and it only takes one small step to move forward, even if we can’t see the next step. These past eight years for me have been a very long lesson (still ongoing, too) in taking one step at a time and not ignoring those “instincts” when they are giving us direction. And just like the mother eagle forcing the eaglets out of the comfort zone of their nest . . .

We must follow . . .

The instinct . . .

To FLY . . . .

YouTube Video: “Born For This” by Mandisa:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

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Made In America

the-obamas-and-the-trumps-at-trumps-inauguration-1-20-17With the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States yesterday, January 20, 2017, the election year of 2016 finally reached its culmination when President-elect Trump spoke these words at high noon and became President Trump:

“I do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help me God.” (Quote source here, YouTube video here.)

In an ironic twist of fate, I was unable to vote in this election year. I’ve only missed voting in two presidential elections in my lifetime and both were for the same reason. The first time it happened was during the 2004 election when I had moved from one city to another city in Florida and was unable to get my address changed within the 30-day registration requirement before the election, and in this election year, 2016, I was registered to vote in Florida but was visiting Houston at the time of the election, and my mail-in ballot was back languishing in my PO Box in Orlando leading up to Election Day.

It’s an odd feeling not to be able to vote–at least it is for me. And this was such a heated election cycle unlike any in recent history (and, unfortunately, it was the first election cycle many in the younger generation witnessed and could vote in as young adults since President Obama served for two four-year terms). I tend to think that the heat, anger, nastiness, and vitriol were greatly exacerbated by social media, much of which didn’t exist in it’s present form or was barely getting off the table and still in it’s infancy back during the election cycle when President Obama was elected president in 2008. Anything (good, bad and ugly) in today’s world is instantaneously broadcast throughout the entire world with a click of a button. And the level of mocking and disrespect found in our society today, too, is at an all time and unprecedented high.

Maybe I’m just getting old but I’ve always believed that the Office of the President and the person occupying that position at any point in our history should be highly respected regardless of whether we voted for that person or not, or whether we agree with them or not. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. It is much more a societal issue then it is about any one man or woman occupying the Office of the President. If we disrespect the very leaders that “we the people” elected (regardless of whether or not our candidate or party won), it speaks volumes about our country to the rest of the world. And I’m not quite sure in the past decade why this general disrespect has grown into a favorite pastime of ours. Seems like we don’t respect much of anything or anyone except what we individually like or think about someone else. So how did we get to the point (and why did we get to the point) where president-bashing has become a national pastime?

presidential-sealI had, have and will continue to have enormous respect for President Obama during his eight years as President, even though I disagreed on some major decisions he made during his tenure. I’m a registered “Independent” with conservative leanings, and I didn’t vote for him either time because of his political leanings (well, he almost got my vote in the second election cycle), but the political process is the same every election cycle–somebody wins and somebody loses–and usually half of us don’t get who we were hoping would be elected. So what has made this election cycle so much more vitriol?

It’s not that President Obama didn’t have his naysayers and mockers as all presidents do have them; but in this election cycle when President Trump was elected in November, the loudest anti-Trump voices came up with the hashtag #NotMyPresident (we didn’t even have hashtags in the 2008 election cycle). Well, President Trump just became our 45th president and if we are living in America, he is our president. Why not give him a chance just like President Obama had his chance, and President Bush and President Clinton had their chance, as did all of the presidents going back to George Washington who have helped to make America great.

I have steered clear of politics most of my life (other than voting) because–as the old saying goes–“if you can’t stand the heat stay out of the kitchen.” And I can’t stand the heat and hatred and negative garbage that comes out every election cycle. We are supposed to be civilized people, right? We talk about “tolerance” while being incredibly “intolerant” of others. What’s up with that, anyway? It still boils down to “my way or the highway” even when we supposedly are talking of “tolerance.”

I fear for a nation that has lost it’s respect for just about anybody or everybody they happen to disagree with, and it’s not just during presidential election cycles and being on the “receiving” end of the disdain by those whose candidate didn’t win. We witness it in every corner of our lives today–this general lack of respect for anything or anyone we don’t like or even know and certainly don’t care to get to know either, for whatever reason (and often we don’t even need a reason). You tell me how God can bless a nation that acts like that to each other.

This, of course, is not to say that there isn’t a lot of good going on in our society, too, but the divisiveness of this political election year and the increase in violent acts and rioting across our nation over the past several years speaks to a deep divide. While peaceful protesting in a Constitutionally protected act, the divisions are exacerbated by the media and on social media, too.

The Office of the President should be given the utmost respect regardless of who is occupying the position at any given point in history. When we lose our respect for our own president (whether we voted for that person or not), we’ve lost something that is very basic to the core of our nation. When everything is “up for grabs” and anything or anyone can be openly mocked and ridiculed and nobody cares, then don’t be surprised someday if we wake up to an America we no longer recognize or like or no longer have any choices in either; and we will have no one else to blame but ourselves.

If we want God to bless America again, it starts with us and how we treat others. . . .

God Bless America. . .

Before it’s too late. . .

And God Bless President Trump (and his administration), too . . . .

YouTube Video: “Made in America” by Toby Keith:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Looking For A Home

On April 21, 2009, my life changed in ways I never could have imagined. I found myself living in a city I had never lived in before in a state I had briefly lived in three and a half decades earlier; and due to my very short tenure in this city and state, I was without the benefit of a professional network in the area after losing a job I moved there for a scant seven months earlier (at the end of September 2008). I traveled 1000 miles for that job and paid my own moving expenses, too, but I thought it was worth it at the time I accepted the job.

Up to that point when I lost my job almost eight years ago, I had been working in my career field for over twenty years. The new job I lost was not only a promotion for me with a much higher paycheck ($15,000/yr more than I was earning at the job I left when I accepted this new position), it was in an environment that fit right in with my bachelor’s degree in art and design–a love I had left behind years earlier when I pursued my master’s degree in higher education/student personnel services. It was the perfect job with the perfect combination using both of my degrees and my skills and experience of the past twenty years. I had visions of auditing several art classes including web design and publishing which I could do for free after I had been working there for six months (a benefit for employees found at most colleges and universities where they are employed). I honestly can’t tell you when I’ve been so excited about a new job. I accepted the position with much anticipation and excitement–I saw it as a new venture in life in a new physical environment (city and state) to explore.

However, much to my surprise, it didn’t work out for whatever reason. It was in a for-profit environment and all of my previous years working in higher education were at nonprofit colleges and universities (see article titled, Non-Profit vs. For-Profit Colleges: What You Need to Know,” published on the Back to College Blog at Franklin University at this link).

The biggest challenge from losing that job starting right off the bat was financial. I went from earning a salary of $52,000/yr–$1000/wk before taxes–to waiting almost a month for my $275/wk (before taxes) unemployment checks to start coming in. I had a small savings account and no other financial resources except the unemployment checks, and I still had five months left on my one-year lease where my apartment was located that I couldn’t break. The rent was $845/mo (the most rent by far that I had ever paid to rent an apartment and it wasn’t a fancy apartment, either), and that didn’t include electricity, cell phone, landline for internet access, water (that was also the first time I had to pay for water when renting an apartment, too), plus I still had a car payment of $200/mo that would finally be paid off in November 2009. That, of course, doesn’t include other expenses such as gas, food, clothing, etc., plus I held onto my health insurance through the Cobra insurance (at a cost to me of under $200/mo) offered through my employer for the 15 months I could keep it until it ran out in July 2010. If  you do the math (my monthly income on unemployment checks was $1100/mo), you can see I was stretched to the limit for that last five months in that apartment. I used to play a game with myself when I went grocery shopping at Walmart that I could not buy anything that was over $2.00 per item, and I only used the air conditioner in my apartment for a brief time in the morning and again before going to bed at night to keep the cost down (my electric bill went from $100/mo to $40/mo by doing that). I kept a box fan with a very long extension cord with me wherever I went in my apartment, and this was during the hottest months in Houston in the summertime.

Also, I cut off the landline and internet connection to my apartment to save another $60/mo, but I kept the cell phone as I had to have it to keep looking for work. And my cell phone company at the time offered a $10/mo internet connection at internet hotspots located in Starbucks and Border Bookstores at the time where I took my laptop and spent hours online applying for jobs. I had no internet connection in my apartment. And I started my job search the very next morning after I was fired the previous afternoon. I even dressed up as if I was going to work to go to the Starbucks to start my job search using their wifi.

I had a couple of close calls on getting a job in Houston while I was still living in my apartment in Houston during those final five months in my apartment; and I was flown to a small state university in Georgia to interview for a job that eventually got axed in their budget and no one was hired for it. At the end of those last five months in that apartment I knew I could no longer stay in Houston without a job as I couldn’t afford it and my unemployment checks were set to run out at the end of six months (I did end up getting the extensions offered at that time beyond the original six months).

During my last month in that apartment a friend offered me her spare bedroom in her home (her two adult children were out on their own by then) back in Florida and I knew I had to make a decision what to do about all of my household stuff–furniture, bookcases and over 1000 books, and a whole lot of other stuff, too, that I could not afford to move back to Florida. I spent $5,000 of my own money to move them to Houston the year before and now that I was unemployed the money simply was not there to move the stuff back to Florida (and I had no place to move it to anyway). So, I gave my furniture and a whole lot of other stuff to a ministry in Houston that helps people who are overcoming drug and alcohol addiction to use in their ministry. I was able to find a moving company that would move a small amount of my stuff to Florida for $600 (14 small boxes plus a hope chest that belonged to my mother, and a handcrafted small bookcase and small wall unit made by my maternal grandfather who died when I was a toddler). I was able to store it in my friend’s “Florida room” for the short time I stayed at her home (three months).

Shortly after I arrived at my friend’s home in Florida, my friend’s niece lost her job and she ended up moving into my friend’s home two months after I arrived. I was still conducting a full time job search and found temporary work that lasted from right before Thanksgiving 2009 through to New Year’s Day 2010, and due to the tight squeeze in my friend’s house with her unemployed niece moving in, I started looking in the area for temporary housing until I found a permanent job and could move wherever I found the job. I immediately found (through the Yellow Pages) a real estate company offering a furnished efficiency apartment as a “seasonal rental” for $450/mo plus electric only a few miles from my friend’s home, and I moved in at the end of December 2009. There was even a place under the stairwell for all of my stuff that I stored in my friend’s Florida room.

The seasonal rental was completely furnished with circa 1970’s furnishings, and it was the upstairs of a grand old house in the downtown area of the town where my friend lived. Built in 1938, it was “one of a kind” in that neighborhood and I fell in love with that old house. When I originally moved in I told the woman manager (her office was on the first floor of the house) that I would most likely only be there a few months at the most until I found a permanent job and moved on (I was applying for jobs in my field all over the United States). Two years later we both had a good laugh when I was still living there and still looking for a job, and the house was sold at that time to an investment company in early 2012. The new company came in and changed the rent to $500/mo utilities included, and I continued to apply for jobs and traveled around as far as Atlanta, New Orleans, and even back to Houston looking for work. A year later the investment company put the house on the market, and by the end of December 2013 a new owner purchased the house.

At this point I should mention that during this time I was able to collect unemployment checks for a total of 99 weeks, ending the last week of May 2011. At that point when they ended, I had no income at all. I still had some savings but it was gone after a few months, and at that point I was old enough to tap into a part of my very small retirement account without a penalty in order to have money to live on when my savings was gone. I lived on that money for three years and two months with no other income until I turned 62 and was able to start collecting Social Security in July 2014 as my only source of income (it is a little over $1000/mo).

Back to my apartment in that grand old house–in January 2014 I was told by the new owner that the rent would be going up to $600/mo. with utilities included. It really tightened an already tight budget and I was frustrated after all this time of not being able to find work of any kind, and not just in my career field. The new owners had other plans for that old house (they lived in that town) and in March 2014 another friend of mine offered me her spare bedroom in a major city in Florida where I used to live and work, so I put my stuff in a storage unit in the town where I was living at that time, and I stayed in my friend’s spare bedroom for almost six months. During that time I discovered just how incredibly hard it is to find an apartment on only a Social Security income, and while I found several ads on Craigslist for furnished apartments, I got no responses to my inquiries.

At that point (the end of September 2014), I decided to go back to Houston (I loved the city despite the dismal job experience) and I stayed at weekly rate hotels, which are not cheap by any means compared to an apartment while continuing my search for affordable housing. The rents I paid while I was there were between $275/wk and $325/wk including hotel taxes, and I was running through what I had left of my retirement money plus my Social Security checks at a fast pace to pay for the hotels plus normal living expenses. I stayed in Houston looking for affordable low income housing for just over three months, and in all of my attempts at visiting apartment complexes and answering many ads on Craigslist, nothing opened up for me. So I ended up going back to the city where I was staying in Florida as I had lived there the longest in all of my years of living in Florida, but my friend had given her spare bedroom to another woman at that point, so I ended up going back and living in hotels there at between $285/wk up to $350/wk including taxes. And I was still running through my remaining retirement money at a fast clip along with the Social Security check, and I could see myself being flat broke before the end of 2015, and I couldn’t afford the rent on hotel rooms on only my Social Security income.

At that point I contact my elderly dad to see if I could come home and stay in his house while I continued to look for affordable housing (he lives in the Midwest). Long story short, he decided to start sending me money to help with the hotel rent so I would not go broke, and he has been doing that since April 2015.

Due to the dismal housing search all during this time in both that city and the town where my stuff is in storage since the end of March 2014 when I left my last apartment (and sans the time I spent in Houston looking for affordable housing in the fall of 2014), I have been forced to continue living in hotels I can’t afford on my own (and only able to live in with my dad’s financial help). This past summer I decided I was getting nowhere fast so I left Florida again to take a break from the dismal housing search and I returned to Houston, and that is where I am currently staying. At least the hotels as cheaper here and the hotel taxes drop off after 30 days which is a significant savings. In Florida the hotel taxes don’t drop off until after six months. I am currently paying $245/wk for my hotel room, and at least this room has a kitchenette (the hotels in Florida where I stayed did not have a kitchenette, they only had a microwave and a small dorm-like refrigerator with no freezer area).

That is a brief (well, maybe not so brief) rundown on my life situation since I lost that job in Houston in April 2009. I never dreamed that I would not find a job fairly quickly after I lost that job as I had worked in my field for over 20 years, and I always got excellent evaluations from my former bosses and employers. I spent an enormous amount of time looking for work for the first several years after I lost that job, and I stopped counting the applications I submitted when the number got to 500 in 2011. I have no idea how many jobs I have applied for at this point in time as I stopped counting. I do keep a record of every job I have applied for and they are all listed in a 41-page typed, single-spaced document. I stopped looking for work actively at the end of December 2014 as one is limited as to how much money one can earn if they collect Social Security at the age of 62 (which I started getting in July 2014). Nobody was calling me at that point anyway, and it had been two years prior to that time that I received my last phone call from a university who was interested in me.

However, I never expect the housing search to be so dismal when I left my last apartment at the end of March 2014, nor did I ever expect to spend almost two and a half years of my time living in hotels that are much more expensive than an apartment. However, every apartment complex I’ve been to I have been told that I don’t earn enough income on my Social Security to rent from them. Talk about being between a rock and a hard place. My dad offered to keep sending me money to help with the rent on an apartment, but I have found no apartment complex yet who will consider his financial contribution as “official income” so they won’t use it in the calculations for how much I need to be making to rent an apartment from them, and my Social Security income is not enough. Even when I tell them what I pay to stay in hotels (far more than the rent they are asking), it doesn’t move them one inch in my direction.

Today I was emailing a friend and I mentioned that maybe I should write a blog post in search of housing and see if anyone who reads my blog post might be able to help me find affordable housing somewhere in the USA. I can’t keep living in hotels I can’t afford on my own and without my dad’s financial help, and until I lost that job in Houston almost eight years ago, I was always self-supporting for my entire adult life. However, I can’t be self-supporting on an Social Security income of a little over $1000/mo.

ask-seek-knockSo, I am writing this post to see of anyone in my reading audience has any suggestions for me. I’d rather you not state them in the “comment” section at the bottom of this blog post as I don’t want to publish the responses on the blog post. Instead, I have an email address that I created for use with this blog site and you can send me an email with any information or advice you may have. I’m asking for legitimate answers and not “comic relief” or nonsense or joking type answers. So with that in mind, please feel free to email me at (you can copy and paste it into your email):

sarasmusingsblog@gmail.com

If you feel more comfortable leaving a comment in the comment section, it won’t get published automatically. I can read it and take the information off of it and delete the comment.

My Linkedin.com profile is available in the upper right hand corner of this page (click on the “in” icon), and you can also access my Linkedin.com profile at this link. It will provide you with my professional work history and background, and give you more information than you will find on my A Little About Me page on this blog site.

Jesus stated these words in Matthew 7:7-12 (NLT):

“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

“You parents—if your children ask for a loaf of bread, do you give them a stone instead? Or if they ask for a fish, do you give them a snake? Of course not! So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.”

So, I’ll end this post with these words (and follow them here with a “Thank You” to anyone who can help in even the smallest of ways):

I’m asking. . .

I’m seeking. . .

And I’m knocking. . . .

YouTube Video: “Home” (from the movie Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps,” 2010) by David Byrne and Brian Eno:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here

I Have A Dream: Martin Luther King Jr Day 2017

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Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (January 15, 1929-April 4, 1968) “was a Baptist minister and social activist who played a key role in the American civil rights movement from the mid-1950s until his assassination in 1968. Inspired by advocates of nonviolence such as Mahatma Gandhi, King sought equality for African Americans, the economically disadvantaged and victims of injustice through peaceful protest. He was the driving force behind watershed events such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott and the March on Washington, which helped bring about such landmark legislation as the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and is remembered each year on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a U.S. federal holiday since 1986″ (quote source: History.com).

Dr. King is universally known for his speeches, the most famous of which is his I Have A Dream speech given in 1963. Wikipedia provided the following information regarding both his sermons and his speeches (quote source here):

The sermons and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr., comprise an extensive catalog of American writing and oratory – some of which are internationally well-known, while others remain unheralded, and some await rediscovery.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a prominent African-American clergyman, a civil rights leader, and a Nobel laureate.

King himself observed, “In the quiet recesses of my heart, I am fundamentally a clergyman, a Baptist preacher.”

The famousI Have a Dreamaddress was delivered in August 1963 from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. Less well-remembered are the early sermons of that young, 25-year-old pastor who first began preaching at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery, Alabama in 1954. As a political leader in the Civil Rights Movement and as a modest preacher in a Baptist church, King evolved and matured across the span of a life cut short. The range of his rhetoric was anticipated and encompassed withinThe Three Dimensions of a Complete Life,” [e.g., concern for oneself, concern for humanity, concern for the spiritual] which he preached as his trial sermon at Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in 1954 and every year thereafter for the rest of his life (YouTube Video of this 40-minute sermon given on April 4, 1967–exactly one year from the date he was assassinated in 1968–is available here). (Quote source here.)

The following biographical information on Dr. King is taken from History.com (source here):

The second child of Martin Luther King Sr. (1899-1984), a pastor, and Alberta Williams King (1904-1974), a former schoolteacher, Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta, Georgia, on January 15, 1929. Along with his older sister, the future Christine King Farris (born 1927), and younger brother, Alfred Daniel Williams King (1930-1969), he grew up in the city’s Sweet Auburn neighborhood, then home to some of the most prominent and prosperous African Americans in the country.

A gifted student, King attended segregated public schools and at the age of 15 was admitted to Morehouse College, the alma mater of both his father and maternal grandfather, where he studied medicine and law. Although he had not intended to follow in his father’s footsteps by joining the ministry, he changed his mind under the mentorship of Morehouse’s president, Dr. Benjamin Mays, an influential theologian and outspoken advocate for racial equality. After graduating in 1948, King entered Crozer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania, where he earned a Bachelor of Divinity degree, won a prestigious fellowship and was elected president of his predominantly white senior class.

kingfamilyKing then enrolled in a graduate program at Boston University, completing his coursework in 1953 and earning a doctorate in systematic theology two years later. While in Boston he met Coretta Scott (1927-2006), a young singer from Alabama who was studying at the New England Conservatory of Music. The couple wed in 1953 and settled in Montgomery, Alabama, where King became pastor of the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. They had four children: Yolanda Denise King (1955-2007), Martin Luther King III (born 1957), Dexter Scott King (born 1961) and Bernice Albertine King (born 1963).

The King family had been living in Montgomery for less than a year when the highly segregated city became the epicenter of the burgeoning struggle for civil rights in America, galvanized by the landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka decision of 1954. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks (1913-2005), secretary of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People [NAACP] chapter, refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery bus and was arrested. Activists coordinated a bus boycott that would continue for 381 days, placing a severe economic strain on the public transit system and downtown business owners. They chose Martin Luther King Jr. as the protest’s leader and official spokesman.

By the time the Supreme Court ruled segregated seating on public buses unconstitutional in November 1956, King, heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948) and the activist Bayard Rustin (1912-1987), had entered the national spotlight as an inspirational proponent of organized, nonviolent resistance. (He had also become a target for white supremacists, who firebombed his family home that January.) Emboldened by the boycott’s success, in 1957 he and other civil rights activists–most of them fellow ministers–founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), a group committed to achieving full equality for African Americans through nonviolence. (Its motto was “Not one hair of one head of one person should be harmed.”) He would remain at the helm of this influential organization until his death.

In his role as SCLC president, Martin Luther King Jr. traveled across the country and around the world, giving lectures on nonviolent protest and civil rights as well as meeting with religious figures, activists and political leaders. (During a month-long trip to India in 1959, he had the opportunity to meet family members and followers of Gandhi, the man he described in his autobiography as “the guiding light of our technique of nonviolent social change.”) King also authored several books and articles during this time.

In 1960 King and his family moved to Atlanta, his native city, where he joined his father as co-pastor of the Ebenezer Baptist Church. This new position did not stop King and his SCLC colleagues from becoming key players in many of the most significant civil rights battles of the 1960s. Their philosophy of nonviolence was put to a particularly severe test during the Birmingham campaign of 1963, in which activists used a boycott, sit-ins and marches to protest segregation, unfair hiring practices and other injustices in one of America’s most racially divided cities. Arrested for his involvement on April 12, King penned the civil rights manifesto known as theLetter from Birmingham Jail,” an eloquent defense of civil disobedience addressed to a group of white clergymen who had criticized his tactics.

Later that year, Martin Luther King Jr. worked with a number of civil rights and religious groups to organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, a peaceful political rally designed to shed light on the injustices African Americans continued to face across the country. Held on August 28 and attended by some 200,000 to 300,000 participants, the event is widely regarded as a watershed moment in the history of the American civil rights movement and a factor in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The march culminated in King’s most famous address, known as theI Have a Dreamspeech, a spirited call for peace and equality that many consider a masterpiece of rhetoric. Standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memoriala monument to the president who a century earlier had brought down the institution of slavery in the United States—he shared his vision of a future in which “this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” The speech and march cemented King’s reputation at home and abroad; later that year he was named Man of the Year by TIME magazine and in 1964 became the youngest person ever awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

In the spring of 1965, King’s elevated profile drew international attention to the violence that erupted between white segregationists and peaceful demonstrators in Selma, Alabama, where the SCLC and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) had organized a voter registration campaign. Captured on television, the brutal scene outraged many Americans and inspired supporters from across the country to gather in Selma and take part in a march to Montgomery led by King and supported by President Lyndon Johnson (1908-1973), who sent in federal troops to keep the peace. That August, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which guaranteed the right to vote–first awarded by the 15th Amendmentto all African Americans.

The events in Selma deepened a growing rift between Martin Luther King Jr. and young radicals who repudiated his nonviolent methods and commitment to working within the established political framework. As more militant black leaders such as Stokely Carmichael (1941-1998) rose to prominence, King broadened the scope of his activism to address issues such as the Vietnam War and poverty among Americans of all races. In 1967, King and the SCLC embarked on an ambitious program known as the Poor People’s Campaign, which was to include a massive march on the capital.

On the evening of April 4, 1968, King was fatally shot while standing on the balcony of a motel in Memphis, where he had traveled to support a sanitation workers’ strike. In the wake of his death, a wave of riots swept major cities across the country, while President Johnson declared a national day of mourning. James Earl Ray (1928-1998), an escaped convict and known racist, pleaded guilty to the murder and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. (He later recanted his confession and gained some unlikely advocates, including members of the King family, before his death in 1998.)

After years of campaigning by activists, members of Congress and Coretta Scott King, among others, in 1983 President Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) signed a bill creating a U.S. federal holiday in honor of King. Observed on the third Monday of January, it was first celebrated in 1986. (Quote source here.)

It is noted in the above article that “the final section of Martin Luther King Jr.’s eloquent and iconic “I Have a Dream” speech is believed to have been largely improvised” (quote source here). Here are the words from that section from the 17-minute speech delivered on August 28, 1963 (quote source here):

mlkjr-quote-3I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.
Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,
From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

Free at last! Free at last!
Thank God
Almighty, we are free at last!
(Quote source here.)

I’ll end this post with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., stated in the photo at the opening of this blog post. . . .

Injustice anywhere. . .

Is a threat . . .

To justice everywhere. . . .

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YouTube Video: I Have A Dream speech delivered on August 28, 1963, by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., (also available in text and audio at this link): 

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here
Photo #3 credit here
Photo #4 credit here

A Time For Every Purpose

eccl-3v1King Solomon, the second son of King David and Bathsheba (their first son died shortly after birth), was considered to be the wisest and one of the wealthiest men who ever lived. Many of his words of wisdom are contained in the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes, which is generally acknowledged to have been penned by King Solomon in his old age (click here for info). He is referred to as “the Teacher” (NIV, NLT) or “the Preacher” (KJV, NKJV) or “the Quester” (MSG) in Ecclesiastes depending on which version of the Bible is being read. Here is a brief background and setting for the book taken from Grace to You”:

Solomon’s reputation for possessing extraordinary wisdom fits the Ecclesiastes profile. David recognized his son’s wisdom (1 Kings 2:6, 9) before God gave Solomon an additional measure. After he received a “wise and understanding heart” from the Lord (1 Kings 3:7–12), Solomon gained renown for being exceedingly wise by rendering insightful decisions (1 Kings 3:16–28), a reputation that attracted “all the kings of the earth” to his courts (1 Kings 4:34). In addition, he composed songs and proverbs (1 Kings 4:32; cf. 12:9), activity befitting only the ablest of sages. Solomon’s wisdom, like Job’s wealth, surpassed the wisdom “of all the people of the east” (1 Kings 4:30; Job 1:3).

The book is applicable to all who would listen and benefit, not so much from Solomon’s experiences, but from the principles he drew as a result. Its aim is to answer some of life’s most challenging questions, particularly where they seem contrary to Solomon’s expectations. This has led some unwisely to take the view that Ecclesiastes is a book of skepticism. But in spite of amazingly unwise behavior and thinking, Solomon never let go of his faith in God (12:13, 14).

The most universally known portion of Ecclesiastes is found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-15. You’ll most likely recognize it from the opening verse:

For everything there is a season,
    a time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die.
    A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal.
    A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh.
    A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones.
    A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching.
    A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend.
    A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate.
    A time for war and a time for peace.

What do people really get for all their hard work? I have seen the burden God has placed on us all. Yet God has made everything beautiful for its own time. He has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end. So I concluded there is nothing better than to be happy and enjoy ourselves as long as we can. And people should eat and drink and enjoy the fruits of their labor, for these are gifts from God.

And I know that whatever God does is final. Nothing can be added to it or taken from it. God’s purpose is that people should fear him. What is happening now has happened before, and what will happen in the future has happened before, because God makes the same things happen over and over again (Eccl. 3:1-15).

Chapter 1 describes the contents of the entire book and identified Solomon as “the Teacher.” The following is taken from the Eccl. 1 NLT version:

These are the words of the Teacher, King David’s son, who ruled in Jerusalem.

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless!”

What do people get for all their hard work under the sun? Generations come and generations go, but the earth never changes. The sun rises and the sun sets, then hurries around to rise again. The wind blows south, and then turns north. Around and around it goes, blowing in circles. Rivers run into the sea, but the sea is never full. Then the water returns again to the rivers and flows out again to the sea. Everything is wearisome beyond description. No matter how much we see, we are never satisfied. No matter how much we hear, we are not content.

History merely repeats itself. It has all been done before. Nothing under the sun is truly new. Sometimes people say, “Here is something new!” But actually it is old; nothing is ever truly new. We don’t remember what happened in the past, and in future generations, no one will remember what we are doing now.

I, the Teacher, was king of Israel, and I lived in Jerusalem. I devoted myself to search for understanding and to explore by wisdom everything being done under heaven. I soon discovered that God has dealt a tragic existence to the human race. I observed everything going on under the sun, and really, it is all meaningless—like chasing the wind.

What is wrong cannot be made right.
What is missing cannot be recovered.

I said to myself, “Look, I am wiser than any of the kings who ruled in Jerusalem before me. I have greater wisdom and knowledge than any of them.” So I set out to learn everything from wisdom to madness and folly. But I learned firsthand that pursuing all this is like chasing the wind.

The greater my wisdom, the greater my grief.
To increase knowledge only increases sorrow.

It sounds a little bleak, doesn’t it? However, it is really a matter of perspective. GotQuestions.org states the following brief overview of Ecclesiastes:

Ecclesiastes is a book of perspective. The narrative of “the Preacher” (KJV), or “the Teacher” (NIV) reveals the depression that inevitably results from seeking happiness in worldly things. This book gives Christians a chance to see the world through the eyes of a person who, though very wise, is trying to find meaning in temporary, human things. Most every form of worldly pleasure is explored by the Preacher, and none of it gives him a sense of meaning.

In the end, the Preacher comes to accept that faith in God is the only way to find personal meaning. He decides to accept the fact that life is brief and ultimately worthless without God. The Preacher advises the reader to focus on an eternal God instead of temporary pleasure.

hebrews-13v8By the end of his reign (he reigned for approximately 40 years–circa 970-931 BC), King Solomon had acquired 700 wives (from royal bloodlines) and 300 concubines (slaves who were not allowed to be wives to kings according to custom). It was the custom during that time for kings to have many wives and concubines, and it is one area of Solomon’s life where he failed to take his own advice, or perhaps it was in having so many wives and concubines that he could give the advice he gave regarding women (found in both the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes; however, that’s not the topic of this blog post).

King Solomon writes about the futility of both pleasure and work in Chapter 2; In Chapter 3 (quoted above) he describes “a time for everything” and the injustices of life which runs over into Chapter 4. He continues in Chapter 4 with the futility of political power and wealth, and approaching God with care in Chapters 5 through 6, concluding with the following verses (6:10-12) at the end of Chapter 6:

The Future—Determined and Unknown

Everything has already been decided. It was known long ago what each person would be. So there’s no use arguing with God about your destiny.

The more words you speak, the less they mean. So what good are they?

In the few days of our meaningless lives, who knows how our days can best be spent? Our lives are like a shadow. Who can tell what will happen on this earth after we are gone?

Chapter 7 is filled with “wisdom for life” and a sample of his advice regarding women is found in these verses (7:26-29):

I discovered that a seductive woman is a trap more bitter than death. Her passion is a snare, and her soft hands are chains. Those who are pleasing to God will escape her, but sinners will be caught in her snare.

“This is my conclusion,” says the Teacher. “I discovered this after looking at the matter from every possible angle. Though I have searched repeatedly, I have not found what I was looking for. Only one out of a thousand men is virtuous, but not one woman! But I did find this: God created people to be virtuous, but they have each turned to follow their own downward path.”

Chapter 8 is a continuation of his “wisdom for life” and includes the following advice in verses 8:9-17:

I have thought deeply about all that goes on here under the sun, where people have the power to hurt each other. I have seen wicked people buried with honor. Yet they were the very ones who frequented the Temple and are now praised in the same city where they committed their crimes! This, too, is meaningless. When a crime is not punished quickly, people feel it is safe to do wrong. But even though a person sins a hundred times and still lives a long time, I know that those who fear God will be better off. The wicked will not prosper, for they do not fear God. Their days will never grow long like the evening shadows.

And this is not all that is meaningless in our world. In this life, good people are often treated as though they were wicked, and wicked people are often treated as though they were good. This is so meaningless!

So I recommend having fun, because there is nothing better for people in this world than to eat, drink, and enjoy life. That way they will experience some happiness along with all the hard work God gives them under the sun.

In my search for wisdom and in my observation of people’s burdens here on earth, I discovered that there is ceaseless activity, day and night. I realized that no one can discover everything God is doing under the sun. Not even the wisest people discover everything, no matter what they claim.

Chapter 9 deals with the topic of death and how it comes to all of us, and also includes some thoughts on wisdom and folly. Here’s a sample from verses 9:11-18:

I have observed something else under the sun. The fastest runner doesn’t always win the race, and the strongest warrior doesn’t always win the battle. The wise sometimes go hungry, and the skillful are not necessarily wealthy. And those who are educated don’t always lead successful lives. It is all decided by chance, by being in the right place at the right time.

People can never predict when hard times might come. Like fish in a net or birds in a trap, people are caught by sudden tragedy.

Here is another bit of wisdom that has impressed me as I have watched the way our world works. There was a small town with only a few people, and a great king came with his army and besieged it. A poor, wise man knew how to save the town, and so it was rescued. But afterward no one thought to thank him. So even though wisdom is better than strength, those who are wise will be despised if they are poor. What they say will not be appreciated for long.

Better to hear the quiet words of a wise person
    than the shouts of a foolish king.
Better to have wisdom than weapons of war,
    but one sinner can destroy much that is good.

Chapter 10 is filled with brief statements regarding “the ironies of life,” ending in verse 10:20 with these words:

Never make light of the king, even in your thoughts.
    And don’t make fun of the powerful, even in your own bedroom.
For a little bird might deliver your message
    and tell them what you said.

Chapter 11 focuses on the “uncertainties of life” and gives a bit of advice for both young and old in verses 11:7-10:

Light is sweet; how pleasant to see a new day dawning.

When people live to be very old, let them rejoice in every day of life. But let them also remember there will be many dark days. Everything still to come is meaningless.

Young people, it’s wonderful to be young! Enjoy every minute of it. Do everything you want to do; take it all in. But remember that you must give an account to God for everything you do. So refuse to worry, and keep your body healthy. But remember that youth, with a whole life before you, is meaningless.

And the last chapter is Chapter 12. It has a bit more advice for the young and old, and concludes with these verses regarding “the Teacher” (12:8-14):

“Everything is meaningless,” says the Teacher, “completely meaningless.”

Keep this in mind: The Teacher was considered wise, and he taught the people everything he knew. He listened carefully to many proverbs, studying and classifying them. The Teacher sought to find just the right words to express truths clearly.

The words of the wise are like cattle prods—painful but helpful. Their collected sayings are like a nail-studded stick with which a shepherd drives the sheep.

But, my child, let me give you some further advice: Be careful, for writing books is endless, and much study wears you out.

That’s the whole story. Here now is my final conclusion: Fear God and obey his commands, for this is everyone’s duty. God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.

Of course, King Solomon lived more then 900 years before Jesus Christ came to offer us salvation and hope beyond what they experienced during the Old Testament days. While the wisdom from King Solomon is still true today, Jesus Christ gives us hope beyond the “meaninglessness of life,” expressed by King Solomon. And as John 3:16-18 states:

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

There is no judgment against anyone who believes in him. But anyone who does not believe in him has already been judged for not believing in God’s one and only Son.

So believe, and receive the only hope there is beyond the “meaninglessness of life” that transcends . . .

Yesterday (the past). . .

Today (the present). . .

And forever (the future here and in eternity, too). . . .

YouTube Video: “Turn! Turn! Turn!” (1965) by the Byrds:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Chasing Truth

the-truth-will-set-you-freeThis past week I read a really fun novel titled, Chasing Francis,” (2006, 2013) by Ian Morgan Cron, a speaker, counselor, and author of several books. A brief summary of the story is available at this link. “Chasing Francis” has endorsements from Mark Batterson, Eric Metaxas, Tony Campolo, Rachel Held Evans, as well as from several other folks. Mark Batterson stated: “Caution! Reading this book may cause spontaneous kindness, charity towards others, and a total overhaul of the way you think about what it means to be a follower of Christ.”

The book centers around a life changing journey taken by a pastor of a megachurch who has lost his faith, and finds it again in a most unlikely place. Here’s a sample taken from the beginning of the book on pp. 12-13:

These days, lots of people dismiss you when they discover you’re cut from evangelical cloth. Once you’ve been outed as a conservative Christian, they assume you’re a right-wing, self-satisfied fundamentalist with all the mental acuity of a houseplant. Every Christmas, my Uncle Bob greets me at the front door of my parents’ house, gripping a martini in one hand and a fat Cuban cigar in the other. He slaps me on the back and yells, “Look who’s here! It’s Mr. EEEeyah-vangelical!” It’s disconcerting, but Bob’s an idiot and suffers from an impulse control disorder.

For many a year, the terms “New England” and “evangelical” have been considered mutually exclusive. My church history professor told me that Jonathan Edwards referred to New England as “the graveyard of preachers.” Baleful as that sounded, it didn’t dissuade me from heeding the call to head east after seminary. My three closest friends were incredulous when I told them about my decision to start a church in Thackeray, Connecticut, a bedroom community thirty-five miles from Wall Street.

“Have you lost your mind? Even God’s afraid of the Northeast,” they said.

I laughed. “It’s not so bad. I grew up there.”

“But you could probably get a job at a megachurch somewhere,” they argued.

Truth be told, I wasn’t interested in working for a church someone else had built. I wanted to be the pioneer who “broke the code” for the spiritually barren Northeast, heroically advancing the cause of Christ into the most gospel-resistant region of the country. As a native, I was certain I knew the cultural landscape well enough to reach the Ivy Leaguers whose homes lay discreetly hidden behind stone walls and wrought-iron gates. A little self-important, but there you have it.

And yet, I had delivered the goods. I’d built a church where, at last count, over three thousand people came to worship every Sunday–a Herculean feat in a part of the world that’s suspicious of things that are either big or new.

With the benefit of hindsight, I can see now that Putnam Hill Community Church had been built on the appeal of my belief in a God who could be managed and explained. I’d held such an unshakable confidence in my conservative evangelical theology that even some of the more skeptical locals had been won over. After I’d put in years of seventy-hour work weeks, Putnam Hill had become a church brimming with young Wall Streeters and their families, many of whom had come because they were disappointed that happiness hadn’t come as optional equipment in their Lexus SUVs.

That world had detonated ten days ago. Gazing down on the terra-cotta roofs dotting the approaching Tuscan hills, I found myself on a forced leave of absence, and chances were good that when I returned home I would be out of a job… (pp. 12-13).

Does that whet your appetite for more? It did mine. . . .

I am more of a nonfiction reader, so I don’t often pick up a novel. However, the title of this book caught my eye, and when I turned to the opening page and read the following sentence–“Once you’ve been outed as a conservative Christian, they assume you’re a right-wing, self-satisfied fundamentalist with all the mental acuity of a houseplant”— I knew I had to read it. “Outed” is a term that is usually used in describing other types of lifestyles, but the truth is (and since we are chasing truth in this blog post) that Christians now fall under that same category of being “outed” as if there is something wrong with being a conservative Christian nowadays in America. Within the general mix of our population, conservative Christians (when outside of their Christian circles and communities) are often viewed as being on the same playing field as houseplants, and everybody has an “Uncle Bob” type in their family tree (e.g., one who is forever poking fun at “those Christians” and other assorted folks they don’t like in whatever specific category they like to attack).

It’s true that I am a conservative Christian, so I guess I have been “outed.” It’s not like I’m trying to hide it but I also don’t talk about it much (except, of course, on my blog) as I’ve never been one to tell anyone how they should live their lives (after all, this is America where “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is available to all without assorted mocking and condescending attitudes coming from those who disagree). It’s a conundrum, really. All those folks who talk about being so “tolerant” but who aren’t very tolerant of others at all who disagree with them. However, I don’t want to get diverted from the topic at hand–which is chasing truth.

faithTo a postmodern (which is how many of us think and live today) truth is relative. Actually, it’s anything we want it to be based on our feelings or emotions at any given moment–not based on facts, but on feelings. However, if one is an airplane pilot and operating a plane by his or her “feelings” instead of the instrument panel in front of them, s/he could very well crash the plane. And who wants a surgeon operating on them using his or her feelings instead of skill? Yet, too often we run our lives on our emotions without considering the actual facts involved in any situation. And running on feelings can get one killed (road rage and riots immediately come to mind). And just turn on TV and watch any sitcom or movie and notice just how much feelings and emotions rule and dictate the outcome.

However, back to the story of “Chasing Francis.” The main character, Pastor Chase Falson, “has lost his faith in God, the Bible, evangelical Christianity, and his super-sized megachurch. When he falls apart, the church elders tell him to go away: as far away as possible.” Falson’s journey takes him “to Italy where, with a curious group of Franciscan friars, he struggles to resolve his crisis of faith by retracing the footsteps of Francis of Assisi (1182-1226), a saint whose simple way of loving Jesus [and others] changed the history of the world” back in the thirteenth century (Quote source: back cover).

Volumes have been written on Francis of Assisi, but perhaps a brief description of Francis found on ChristianityToday.com gives those of us unfamiliar with Francis a little taste of who he was:

It is difficult to think clearly about Francis of Assisi. The first thing that comes to mind is the gentle saint who preached to birds, tamed wolves, and padded about in flower-filled fields basking in the love of God. But it’s also difficult to imagine how such a benign figure could turn thirteenth-century Europe upside down.

In fact, Francis was a complex figure, a man who contemporaries claimed lived out the Sermon on the Mount better than anyone else, except of course, the man who first preached it. If that’s even close to the truth, it’s a bit easier to see why he left such an impression on his age and every age since. (Quote source here.)

That brief description is a bit too brief to do justice to the man named Francis found in “Chasing Francis,” in which the experiences of Chase Falson during his time in Italy chasing Francis really must be read to be appreciated. The book is quite moving and the author has a delightful sense of humor that shows up throughout the book. On the inside front cover of the book is the following statement:

When his elders tell him to take some time away from his church, broken pastor Chase Falson crosses the Atlantic to Italy to visit his uncle, a Franciscan priest. There he is introduced to the revolutionary teachings of Saint Francis of Assisi and find an old, but new way of following Jesus that heals and transpires.

Chase Falson’s spiritual discontent mirrors the feelings of a growing number of Christians who walk out of church asking, “Is this all there is?” They are weary of celebrity pastors, empty calorie teaching, and worship services where the emphasis is more on “Lights, Camera, Action” then on “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” while the deepest questions of life remain unaddressed in a meaningful way.

Bestselling author Ian Morgan Cron masterfully weaves lessons from the life of Saint Francis into the story of Chase Falson to explore the life of a saint who 800 years ago breathes new life into disillusioned Christians and a Church on the brink of collapse.

“Chasing Francis” is a hopeful and moving story with profound implications for those who yearn for a more vital relationship with God and the world. (Quote source: inside front cover.)

Increasingly, people are becoming disenchanted with the church at large (regardless of denomination or affiliation). In the book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated (2014) by James Emery Whitefounding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; president of Serious Times, a ministry that explores the intersection of faith and culture and hosts this website, ChurchAndCulture.org which features his messages and blogs; ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president; and author of twenty books; Dr. White makes the following statement on pp. 172-173:

I know many, if not most, Christians have become disillusioned with the church. As Katie Galli [note: see her 2008 article titled, “Dear Disillusioned Generation,” in Christianity Today] once noted about her fellow twentysomethings, “We’re disillusioned about almost everything–government, war, the economy. . . . We’re especially disillusioned with the church. Somewhere between the Crusades, the Inquisition, and fundamentalists bombing abortion clinics, we lost our appetite for institutionalized Christianity.” I understand.

But it is an institution, and needs to be. And while “the church can indeed be bureaucratic, inefficient, and, at times, hopelessly outdated,” Galli wisely adds, “it has also given us a 2000-year legacy of saints and social reformers, and a rich liturgy and theology–the very gift twentysomethings need to grow into the full stature of Christ. But this is far from a generational challenge. Baby boomer Philip Yancey writes of his estrangement from the church, noting how the hypocrisy of the members and the cultural irrelevance of its experience kept him away for years. Why did he return? Christianity is not a purely intellectual, internal faith. It can only be lived in community.

Ironically, the real dilemma facing the church is not the church itself but the staggering power of the biblical vision for the church. Christ’s dream for the church is so strong, so compelling, so vibrant that the pale manifestations on the corner of Elm and Vine can breed disdain. As Sarah Cunningham writes, “I have been and continue to be frustrated when Christian religious systems seem to fall short of the community God intended his followers to experience. However, my belief in the ideal of the church–in God’s design for those who align themselves with him–is uncompromised.” But the telling statement comes later when she owns the rampant idealism that pervades her generation’s approach to life: “It’s no surprise, then, that twentysomethings tend to apply these same idealistic ideas to a search for the perfect church. When we don’t find perfection, we can start to get a bit antsy.

Any ideal can act in one of two ways: (1) it can drive you toward its fulfillment, or (2) it can drive you away from its pursuit entirely in disappointment. Sadly, many are choosing to leave the vision in disappointment. They remain loyal to the idea of church but not its practice, citing the chasm between the vision and the reality as their rationale. But this is precisely what must not happen. (Quote source: The Rise of the Nones,” pp. 172-173).

The tendency to hide behind “idealism” isn’t just a twentysomething phenomenon. It’s easily used by any generation as a cop-out and an excuse to live life on one’s own terms. The Church that Jesus Christ built (as imperfect as it is as we are all human) will always be around no matter how we rationalize our dissatisfaction with it. When we reduce Jesus Christ to an institution and not a Person who’s very Spirit has been promised to us who are his followers (see John 14:23-27) to guide and direct us and his Church, we have missed the point of what the Church is supposed to be all about–loving God and loving others.

In John 14:6 Jesus stated, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father [God] except through me.” And John 3:16-18 states, For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son [Jesus Christ], that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”

And that’s truth . . .

And it requires faith . . .

To believe . . . .

YouTube Video: “Made to Love” by TobyMac:

Photo #1 credit here
Photo #2 credit here

Seizing the New Year

yesterday-is-gone-tomorrow-has-not-yet-comeWe’ve all heard the expression, Seize the Day.” Well, a brand new year has arrived on our doorstep, so I say let’s do it one better by seizing this brand new year one day at a time!

In the opening statements to Chapter 9 titled, “Seize the Day,” in Joyce Meyer‘s book titled Seize the Day: Living On Purpose and  Making Every Day Count (2016), Meyer states the following:

From what I have learned over the years, this is a summary of what the word “seize” means: to take hold of forcibly and suddenly, or to grab, grasp, or snatch. It also means to take control of or to repossess. When we seize something we subdue it, and that is exactly what God told Adam to do concerning the earth.

And God blessed them and said to them, Be fruitful, multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it. ~Genesis 1:28 (AMPC)

If we desire to know how God wanted man to live, we can look to the beginning of time as we know it, and there is no better place to look than Genesis chapter 1. God created Adam and Eve and gave them authority and dominion over the rest of His creation. He told them to subdue it,or, in other words, to seize it and use it in the service of God and man.

Far too many people are inactive, and they wait for something to fall into their laps–[and] they end up waiting until it is too late. They live dissatisfied and unproductive lives simply because they don’t wake up each day ready to seize the day and make the most out of it. (Quote source, “Seize the Day,” pp. 86-87.)

The Apostle Paul (Paul’s conversion is available at this link) has given us some great advice for “seizing the day” in Philippians 3 (taken from The Message Bible–MSG):

To Know Him [Jesus Christ] Personally

And that’s about it, friends. Be glad in God!

I don’t mind repeating what I have written in earlier letters, and I hope you don’t mind hearing it again. Better safe than sorry—so here goes.

Steer clear of the barking dogs, those religious busybodies, all bark and no bite. All they’re interested in is appearances—knife-happy circumcisers, I call them. The real believers are the ones the Spirit of God leads to work away at this ministry, filling the air with Christ’s praise as we do it. We couldn’t carry this off by our own efforts, and we know it—even though we can list what many might think are impressive credentials. You know my pedigree: a legitimate birth, circumcised on the eighth day; an Israelite from the elite tribe of Benjamin; a strict and devout adherent to God’s law; a fiery defender of the purity of my religion, even to the point of persecuting the church; a meticulous observer of everything set down in God’s law Book.

The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all the things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.

I gave up all that inferior stuff so I could know Christ personally, experience his resurrection power, be a partner in his suffering, and go all the way with him to death itself. If there was any way to get in on the resurrection from the dead, I wanted to do it.

Focused on the Goal

I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me. Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus. I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.

So let’s keep focused on that goal, those of us who want everything God has for us. If any of you have something else in mind, something less than total commitment, God will clear your blurred vision—you’ll see it yet! Now that we’re on the right track, let’s stay on it.

Stick with me, friends. Keep track of those you see running this same course, headed for this same goal. There are many out there taking other paths, choosing other goals, and trying to get you to go along with them. I’ve warned you of them many times; sadly, I’m having to do it again. All they want is easy street. They hate Christ’s Cross. But easy street is a dead-end street. Those who live there make their bellies their gods; belches are their praise; all they can think of is their appetites.

But there’s far more to life for us. We’re citizens of high heaven! We’re waiting the arrival of the Savior, the Master, Jesus Christ, who will transform our earthy bodies into glorious bodies like his own. He’ll make us beautiful and whole with the same powerful skill by which he is putting everything as it should be, under and around him.

The Apostle Paul was never one to shy away from obstacles or mince words. He had the background experience as a Pharisee to know exactly what he was talking about and why he was so passionate about getting this message across to others. And Jesus Christ was more to him than a religion with a bunch of rules to follow. When Jesus made himself known to Paul on the Damascus Road (when Paul, then known as Saul who was a highly respected Pharisee at the time, came face to face with the One who holds life and who clearly let him know he was going down the wrong path), it changed Paul’s life forever from that moment on and for the last three plus decades of his life. When Paul was still Saul the Pharisee, he murdered Christians thinking he was doing God a favor! Think about that for a moment! But Jesus came to Paul after his resurrection from the dead in a rather spectacular way that changed Paul’s life from that moment on. And that’s what genuine Christianity is all about–genuine change from the inside out. Paul didn’t even know he was heading in the wrong direction until Jesus made it quite clear to him that he was [the story of Paul’s conversion is available at this link, which is also found in Acts 9].

With that in mind, let’s take look at what it means to be Christian here in America as we begin 2017. David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons published a new book in 2016 titled, Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme (2016) which clearly describes what is going on here in America today when it comes to Christianity. On the inside front cover the authors make the following statement:

It is easy to feel overwhelmed as we try to live faithfully in a culture that seems increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. With a growing backlash against religion and people of faith, it’s harder than ever to hold on to our convictions while treating friends, neighbors, co-workers, and even family members who disagree with respect and compassion.

Based on groundbreaking research, this timely book by the bestselling authors ofunChristianexplores politics, sexuality, race, gender, and religious freedom, helping you:

  • respond with compassion, clarity, and confidence to the most toxic issues of our day
  • discover the most significant cultural trends that are creating both obstacles and opportunities for Christians
  • know what you believe and why it doesn’t make you a judgmental or extreme person
  • stop being afraid to talk about what you believe and start having meaningful conversations about tough issues
  • understand the heart behind opposing views and learn how to stay friends across differences (Source: inside front cover of “Good Faith.”)

David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons are no strangers to what is going on in America today regarding Christianity. On the back cover they state (to a Christian audience), “You are no longer part of the majority. Your response will shape the future of Christianity in America.” As Christians, do we take that statement seriously? If so, it’s time to “seize the day” and not just sit back and think that someone else will do it for us. In the not-too-distant past a nation fell when the general population was too busy doing other things to notice, and it happened when they weren’t looking or paying attention, or worse yet, ignored the signs taking place all around them.

David Kinnaman is the president of Barna Group, a leading research and communications company that works with churches, nonprofits, and businesses ranging from film studios to financial services. Since 1995, Kinnaman has directed interviews with nearly one million individuals and overseen hundreds of US and global research studies. He is also the author of unChristian and You Lost Me: Why Young Christians Are Leaving the Church and Rethinking Faith.” (Source: Inside back cover of Good Faith.”)

Gabe Lyons is the founder of Q (Q Ideas), a learning community that educates and mobilizes Christians to think well and advance “good” in society. Called “sophisticated and orthodox” by The New York Times, “Q” represents the perspective of a new generation of Christians. Lyons speaks on cultural issues where faith intersects public life. He is the author of unChristian and The Next Christians.” (Source: Inside back cover of Good Faith.”)

seize-the-daySome of the contents of this book, Good Faith,” might shock those of us who aren’t connected to the younger generations (and that includes parents) in a meaningful way. Much like the authors’ book, unChristian,” (published in 2007), the news that Christianity isn’t seeping down into the younger generations nearly as much as we might suspect even if they grew up in their parents’ church might be a bit unnerving to deal with, and the “cover up” can be a rather insidious surprise if it was revealed. When lightweight Christianity is sold to the young, they can find many reasons to walk away while still looking connected to their parents’ religion as well as others in the church. I wrote a blog post titled, Something To Think About,” in June 2016 on some of the findings found in unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity . . . And Why It Matters.”

For now, their latest book, Good Faith: Being A Christian When Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme (2016) is the topic for this blog post. Looking irrelevant and extreme has always been attached to Christianity and Christians down through the centuries since Jesus Christ claimed to be the Son of God (see John 3 regarding his conversation with a Pharisee named Nicodemus); died at the hands of the Jewish religious rulers; and rose again on the third day, just as he predicted that he would do (see Mark 8:31-38; Luke 18:31-33). Believing in Jesus Christ requires faith. And that’s it. See John 3:16-18. The rest of the world will always mock what it does not understand and refuses to believe by faith. That Christianity may no longer be in the majority in America, as the authors state in “Good Faith,” doesn’t change what it means to be Christian whether we are living here in America, or in Syria, China, Russia, Iran, or any place else in the world.

As Kinnaman and Lyons state in Chapter 1 titled, “Bad Faith, Good Faith,” on p 15:

The aim of this book is to make a case for good faith. Christianity has managed to survive and thrive as a minority religion countless times throughout history–and does so in many places around the world today. So we hope you’ll gain confidence that holding tight to biblical conviction is not only worthwhile and critical but also absolutely doable. Despite the faults we Christians bring to it, Christianity practiced well helps people thrive and communities flourish. Together, we want to discover how Christians can do good for and with the people around us.

“Good Faith” will prepare you to be smart and courageous and to live faithfully in a changing culture that is no longer particularly friendly to faith.

At best, diverse, pluralistic cultures, like that of North America today, are indifferent to people of faith; they accept only the most tepid, inoffensive forms of religious expression. At worst, they are actively hostile toward religious practices and beliefs (one recent op-ed called them “superstitious rituals” and “comically outlandish claims”). This book touches on many topics that crowd the intersection of faith with the wider culture: sex and sexuality, politics, race, religion and public life, morals and virtues, and many more.

When it comes to good faith, everything must be on the table. (Quote source “Good Faith,” p. 15.)

Obviously, I cannot do justice to any book in the few words written in a blog post. If there is one book Christians should give thought to reading at the beginning of this new year, it is Good Faith.” To not fully understand the issues at hand going on in our society today because we tend to surround ourselves with fellow Christians is to do a grave disservice to ourselves and the Christian community at large. If ever there was a time to “seize the day,” and not just bury our heads in the sand or ignore the signs all around us, it is now. . . .

In the last chapter of the book, Chapter 18 titled “Faithful in Exile,” The authors open it up with the following conversation:

“It’s like we’re living in a modern-day Babylon.”

I recently overheard two Christian friends discussing today’s seemingly out-of-control culture. One of the guys felt like an ancient pagan civilization was the closest analogy he could find.

And his friend immediately agreed. “Definitely!”

Babylon.

Why would Christians reference an ancient culture to describe today’s society? If you had to describe mainstream culture in a single word or phrase, what would  you choose?

  • Complicated.
  • Accelerated.
  • Complex.
  • Pleasure-seeking and narcissistic.
  • Spiritual but godless.
  • Strong and powerful yet corrupt and immoral
  • Confused about right and wrong

In ancient times, Babylon was an empire that, like empires before and since, overwhelmed other lands and peoples with military and commercial power and sought to obliterate competing cultures. In the 7th Century BC, the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to Jerusalem, and the kingdom of Judah fell to the empire. To complete Babylon’s dominance of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar took captive most of the noble families, craftsmen, artisans, soldiers, and other prominent citizens, carting them all off to the empire’s capital.

One Hebrew, in particular, stood out.

Daniel, a member of a Judean noble family, was human plunder of a military conquest, a victim of human trafficking. He came from the ethnically and religiously homogeneous culture of Judah and was taken by force to the cosmopolitan and religiously plural capital. It was something likeThe Hunger Games,” if you think about it. All the “districts” of the Babylonian Empire were coerced into sending their best and brightest to serve the interest of the capital.

It’s not hard to imagine that Daniel and others who were taken captive felt outnumbered, dislocated, and culturally out of step–the very feelings many Christians and other believers are experiencing today.

We believe our faith community today faces an emerging social context that demands we learn to be Christian a new way, described best as being “faithful in exile.” We are no longer the home team, even though our physical location hasn’t changed. We’re playing on Babylon’s turf. (Quote source, “Good Faith,” pp. 253-255).

This chapter describes several lessons we can learn from the life of Daniel, who spent his entire life from the time he was taken captive as a teenager until he died in his 80’s serving the Babylonian kings without compromising his faith. The Book of Daniel in the Old Testament is taken from Daniel’s life in exile and how God used him in astonishing and amazing ways.

I’ll end this blog post with the final lesson the authors state from the life of Daniel from Chapter 18, and how it relates to us today (pp. 260-262):

The final lesson we learn from Daniel relates to following the call of God on our lives. It’s unlikely we would know about Daniel at all if he had not pursued his vocation. He essentially because the secretary of state for one of the most pagan civilizations in human history. He served at the pleasure of three kings, leaders of a triad of ungodly regimes that rose to power in quick succession.

Our love and orthodoxy brings good to society when we pursue our God-given calling. This includes our career–entrepreneurs, public officials, scientists, writers, teachers, pastors, dental hygienists, and so on. But it also encompasses how we parent, how we practice hospitality, how we steward our sexual lives, and how we engage in conversations. We are called to be faithful in all of life’s complexities. Our love and belief should compel us to become agents of God’s reconciliation through Christ in whatever sphere of life he has called us to inhabit.

Jeremiah’s [an Old Testament prophet] how-to-survive-in-exile instructions are as applicable today as they were thousands of years ago: plant gardens, build houses, and plan to stay. Work for your city’s peace and prosperity, for its flourishing will be your flourishing. As a community of God, work for the common good: that which is orderly and right, abundant and generous, beautiful and flourishing with life and relationships (see Jeremiah 29:4-7).

Hopeful expectation in exile is a biblical perspective. Not only do we have example of actual exiles like Joseph, Esther, and Daniel, but much of the New Testament also calls us to live “in the world but not of the world.” Peter says we are sojourners, strangers in the world. Paul and the writer of Hebrews offer practical wisdom for fine-tuning the church’s role in relation to the wider culture. “Bless those who persecute you,” Paul writes. “Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. . . . Live in harmony with each other” (Romans 12:14-16). “Work at living in peace with everyone,” Hebrews says, “and work at living a holy life” (Hebrews 12:14). . . .

We have a lot of work to do. At times, you may feel irrelevant or be labeled extreme. But you are in good company. Throughout the ages, the Christian community has faced pressure–even persecution–and endured.

We are called not to determine the outcome but to be faithful.

Led by love, grounded in biblical belief, and ready to live as a counterculture for the common good, we trust that our good faith will be used by God to renew the world. (Quote source: “Good Faith,” pp. 260-262.)

Good Faith will not only inform you of the changes going on in our culture, but also give you hope and inspiration for the new year ahead of us. . . .

UPDATE January 4, 2017: I have just become aware of another book that is a “must read” titled, You Will Be Made To Care: The War on Faith, Family and Your Freedom to Believe,” (2016) by Erick Erickson and Bill Blankschaen. Read some reviews at this link; and longer review is available at this link.

Get both books. . .

Read both books. . .

And SEIZE THE DAY. . . .

YouTube Video: “Speak Life” by TobyMac:

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